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Counselors, It’s Time to Pack!

You’ve scored an amazing summer job at a sleepaway camp and the summer is so close that you can practically taste the s’mores, smell the camp air and hear your campers laughing. But before you can head off for the summer of your life, you have to pack. Packing can be a daunting task for first time camp staff. Even if your camp supplies a packing list, it’s hard to determine what you may be able to leave behind, if packing space is at a premium, and what you absolutely must have. Here is a brief rundown of those items that camp staff traditionally believe are essential.

If you pack these items, you are in good shape….

Sunscreen

You’re working at a summer camp, and “outdoors” is an operative word in your upcoming summer. In fact, you’ll spend the majority of your day outside. Applying sunscreen often and generously insures that you do not find yourself very red and uncomfortable at the end of a sunny day and protects your skin from the potential long term effects of the sun’s rays.

Water bottle

Heat plus a lot of activity equals the need to stay hydrated. Whether or not your camp provides water, it’s a good idea to take a water bottle that can be refilled several times throughout the day. It’s also environmentally friendly by reducing the use of disposable cups.

Several pairs of shoes for all types of weather

Athletic shoes are essential. Multiple pairs, if you have them, are ideal. Most traditional sports oriented camps do not allow staff to wear flip-flops or open toed shoes for activities that are not water related. It’s simply unsafe in an athletic environment. So one or two pairs for water-related activities and days off are sufficient. A pair of rain boots or galoshes is always a good idea.

 Bunk/Cabin games (Jacks, puzzle games, etc.)

These activities help facilitate communication with campers, and are so much fun while in the bunk or cabin during resting periods or rainy days. Some items are not allowed in bunks or cabins, however, so be sure you check with your camp to make sure that games and other activity items are permitted.

 Bedding

Some camps provide bedding. Other camps require staff members to bring their own bedding.  If your camp requires you to bring bedding, it is a good idea to bring a thick blanket or comforter in addition to a thin one. Yes, it’s summer. But most camps are in rural mountainous regions, and it sometimes gets cool at night, especially at the very beginning and toward the end of the summer.

Lots of socks and under garments

A saying is among camp staff who return year after year, you can never have too many of either!

Comfortable shorts/pants

Athletic type shorts and pants are best for moving through daily activities, but it ultimately comes down to whatever you feel the most comfortable wearing.

A couple of sweatshirts or sweaters

Again, yes it’s summer, but the evenings can get a bit chilly.

 Some colorful shirts and shorts (especially in your camp’s colors)

Camps often divide staff and campers into teams for activities by colors. So it’s a good idea to pack a rainbow of colors so that you are prepared to show team spirit when the time comes.

 A few plain white t-shirts/tanks that can be dyed or altered for costume purposes…

You just never know at summer camp.

A bag for laundry

 

Eventually, you’re going to need to do your laundry at camp. It helps to have a laundry bag for easy transport to and from the laundry. (Many camps provide laundry bags-  so check first.)

 Sunglasses

A couple of pairs are a good idea. There is a lot of movement at camp, and sunglasses are an item that is commonly lost, forgotten or broken.

Equipment

Ask yourself, what will you be doing at camp? Will you need some type of special equipment that you need to bring. If so, make sure you leave room for it when you are packing.

Toiletries

Most camps are within a reasonable distance to a shop from which these types of items can easily be replenished. So you usually only need enough of these to last the first couple of weeks, if packing space is at a premium.

 If you stuff your suitcase or duffle with these items, you’ll be in good shape for your first summer at camp. If you’re concerned that you don’t have room in your luggage for all of these items, call your camp to see if staff members are permitted to ship items to camp.

Environmentally Friendly Noise

Whether you’re a new or returning staff member who is preparing to work at camp this summer, the decibel level of those first few days at camp are always a bit above what you anticipate. Of course, we hear noise every day.  But camp noise is different than other noise. A camp staff member once relayed a memory of her first summer at camp. She recalled the shock of the day the campers arrived. ‘It was suddenly very loud,’ she said. ‘They don’t prepare you for that at orientation. Then again, there is probably no way they could.’ She is right. There is no way to describe what several hundred excited children who have been waiting for a moment for ten months sounds like. It’s certainly not noise pollution, though. It much more closely resembles environmentally friendly noise. It’s the noise of excitement, happiness and anticipation.

A strange phenomenon happens with environmentally friendly noise. You not only expect it, but anticipate hearing it every day. You don’t even realize how much you look forward to camp noise until the end of camp. When the buses pull away on the last day of camp, the quietness that settles over the campus is one of the saddest moments of the summer. You realize the kids are gone, and the summer really is over. Even after you return home, you find yourself wishing to hear the sounds that defined your summer–bugle calls or bells to signal daily activities, constant cheering and laughter, mealtimes with hundreds of other people. Everyday noise just seems like noise pollution.

5 Things for Camp Staff to Begin Thinking about in the Spring

Even though camp is three months away, snow covers the ground in many locations and you just barely finished making spring break plans, if you’ve committed to working at a summer camp, it’s already time to begin thinking about the summer. Here are five camp things to begin thinking about in the spring:

1.)    Make travel arrangements. How will you be getting to camp? Will you drive, fly, carpool? If you plan to fly, airline tickets are often less expensive in the early spring before the weather warms and people begin making summer vacation plans. Carpooling is a great way to get to know co-workers while splitting the cost of fuel. If you plan to carpool, reach out to other camp staff through your camp’s Facebook page or other resources offered by your camp and begin to get to know others from your area who may be interested in traveling together. If your camp offers travel reimbursement as part of your contract, it’s also very important that you understand the reimbursement process prior to making travel plans.

2.)    Set goals. Camp is a work experience like no other and it can be a bit overwhelming at first. Setting goals prior to arriving helps minimize culture shock. When setting goals it’s important to keep an open mind. Summers at camp tend to have a lot of twists and turns. Your list will likely evolve as you familiarize yourself with your new environment, and there are some things that will probably not pan out quite the way you initially envision them. That’s okay. The importance of setting goals is that they help you mentally prepare for the camp experience and arrive with some sense of direction.

3.)    Begin stockpiling…but not too much. Packing for camp is an art. Living space is very limited. At the same time, camps are usually in rural places that don’t have a lot of nearby shopping options, and limited access to computers and the internet make online shopping a bit more challenging too. So it’s extremely important to pack the right combination of items that can be easily replaced with those items that are difficult to come by or require a bit of a drive to acquire. Chances are, you will have several opportunities throughout the summer to replenish basic items such as shampoo, deodorant, sunscreen, etc. So if you need to maximize luggage space, pack just enough of these items to get you through the first couple of weeks. It’s a good idea, however, to begin thinking about acquiring certain items, such as bedding, towels and socks, that people tend to overlook until the last minute. By beginning to accumulate those items a few months ahead of time, you’ll avoid that last minute binge shopping trip in which something essential and perhaps not easily acquirable is inevitably forgotten.

4.)    Complete forms. In the spring, your camp will either mail or make available online a series of forms. These forms may include a contract, standard employment forms, forms requesting information about how you intend to travel to camp, and forms that require medical and insurance information. Although completing paperwork is never the most exciting task, it is essential that you complete and submit these forms prior to your arrival at camp. First, the camp must have these completed forms in order to pay you or treat you for any medical emergencies or conditions. Second, many camps will not issue you id badges or uniforms until they have received these completed forms. Orientation is a very busy time and few staff members love the idea of having to take some of their downtime to complete paperwork.

5.)    Learn about the camp. Presumably, you learned at least a little bit about the camp prior to accepting a job there. But now that you’re actually going to be part of it, really get to know it. Watch the camp video if you haven’t already. Re-watch it if you have. The camp video is a great way to preview the camp culture. Also, if your camp participates in any social media outlets (and many do these days), begin following them to get a sense of who your co-workers are as well as your camp’s values and traditions. Also, a lot of camps provide tips and updates for staff through their social media outlets as camp draws near. Of course, it’s impossible to get a full sense of what your camp is all about until you get there, but arriving with some sense of what (and who) to expect is a lot less disorienting than arriving with none.

Be Better

The Sochi Olympics took place last month, and even though the athletes competed on snow and ice, the games were surprisingly reminiscent of summer camp, particularly from a staff perspective. Many athletes were there for the first time. Some, however, were competing in their second, third, or even fifth Olympic games. Each summer at camp, likewise, attracts many fresh staff faces – eager but not quite sure what to expect – and returning staff who are back to lead the way and improve upon their past performances, even if those performances were already gold medal caliber. Oddly, a lot of camp blogs and articles address the qualities and expectations of new camp staff, but few address those of returners. How do staff approach camp if it is their second, third, fifth, or even tenth summer? The answer most veteran camp staff provide is that they intend to be better. Even great summers, in retrospect, have room for improvement. Like campers, returning staff always arrive with an agenda and, like athletes, always strive for that perfect 10 summer. Every summer is an Olympic year for camp staff.

Many returners actually begin goal setting for the following summer before the current summer ends. Some simply visualize areas in which they could be better whileothers actually comprise a physical list. Veteran staff members learn, over the course of several summers, that there is a maturation process to working at camp. Because camp tends to be such a microcosmic environment in which staff wear many hats, it’s almost impossible not to develop multiple perspectives of camp and how it can be made even better. Like athletes, veteran camp staff know that there is always room for improvement. Even the smallest of adjustments can elevate a summer from excellent to outstanding. In part, that is what draws returning staff members back year after year.

Regardless of whether each summer begins with a written or mental list of goals, it ends the same for all returning staff – with careful evaluation of their own performance. The desire to be better is a unique quality of returning camp staff, and a quality that makes them very appealing as job candidates. The enthusiasm of happy campers is infectious. Mediocrity is simply not an option when making campers happy. Returning camp staff are so willing to dedicate themselves to the task of creating gold medal summers that they come back year after year, physically and mentally ready to take on old challenges as well as new ones. At camp,  they eat, breathe, sleep and live what they’ve been envisioning since the end of the previous summer in their quest to simply be better at something they love.

The Hard Part of Working at Camp

A popular question that a lot of prospective summer camp counselors ask recruiters is about the difficult aspects of the job. After hearing about how much fun they will have, about the amount of time they will get to spend outdoors, about all of the friends they will make, and how much money they can save, it all sounds a bit too good to be true. Candidates want to know, ‘So, what’s the hard part?’ It’s a good question because, while it’s true that a simple internet search will produce article upon article about all of the great aspects of working at a sleepaway camp, few highlight the difficult parts of the job. In the name of bucking the status quo, this blog is going to take a stab at it.

First, camp ends. That’s probably the hardest part. From an outsider’s perspective, a couple of months never seems like a long time, certainly not long enough to form any permanent bonds or attachments. What a lot of people fail to consider, because it’s just such a foreign concept to most people, is that those two months aren’t 9-5, 5 days per week months. They’re 24/7 months—including meal times. That’s roughly 1,344 hours of constant interaction with campers and co-workers compared to the 320 hours those people who just do that daytime thing get. A little basic math establishes that’s roughly eight months of regular work time crammed into two. Eight months is the better part of a year and plenty of time to get pretty attached to new friends as well as campers. That’s why tears are usually inevitable when it comes time to saying goodbye. Goodbye is always hard. But it’s even harder when you know that you may never have the opportunity to see some of the people with whom you’ve just spent the equivalent of eight months of your life again.

Second, you have to be comfortable around children. This sounds like a no brainer, but if you’re used to spending most of your time around adults, spending most of your time around children requires a bit of an adjustment. It goes without saying that interacting with children requires a filter of sorts. Obviously, you don’t share everything with children that you would with other adults. Interacting with children also requires a great deal of discretion. They’re looking at you for answers. Not only knowing what answers to give but when to give them is important. Knowing when it’s not your place to answer but to escalate the issue is even more important. Also, successful interaction with children is all in the presentation. You have to be a good salesperson to a certain extent. Before signing up to work at summer camp, think about the fact that convincing at least one camper to do something he or she does not want to do and to have fun while doing it is likely going to be a daily occurrence. If you’re a person who is quick to lose patience, summer camp may not be the right fit for you.

Third, stepping outside of your comfort zone is difficult. Think about it. When you’re feeling like pizza, do you pick up the telephone and call a different restaurant to order each time or do you call that place that you know makes a killer pie? There is nothing wrong with comfort. It certainly makes life (and decisions) easier. But leaving friends and family and going to a completely foreign environment to live and work for two months is definitely taking a giant step out of the comfort zone for most people. A lot of first year staff members arrive at camp thinking they’re prepared…and then reality sets in. Just accept that you will feel disoriented for a few days and definitely out of your comfort zone, which is hard. But if you stick with it, you’ll find that stepping out of your comfort zone to work at camp is one of the best hardest things you will ever do.

Finally, working at camp is exhausting. Seriously. You need some serious stamina—both mental and physical–to make it through the summer. The days are long. The sleep is short. You will likely be given one day off per week, on which you will still find yourself spending time with the same people with whom you’ve been working for the past six days and with whom you will work for the next six days. Obviously, if you’re a person who values a lot of alone time, you might find working at camp a bit hard.

There you have it. The hard part. The fine print. The ‘What’s the catch?’ If you’ve read all of that and are ready to take on a bit of difficulty in exchange for a whole lot of fun, then a summer at camp just may be the right fit for you.

10 Reasons Working as a Camp Counselor This Past Summer Was the Most Awesome Job Decision You Ever Made…

1.) Being able to put “Provided excellent care and fun for several hundred children” or “helped children improve athletic skills” on your resume is a pretty sweet bonus.

2.) Saying, “My friend who lives in Australia…” or “My friend who lives in Arizona…” sounds a lot cooler (and more worldly) than, “My friend who works two cubicles down from me…”  Not to mention, you’ll save a whole lot of money on accommodations the next time you travel!

3.) You’d take tutus over “business casual” as dress code any day.  Shorts and staff shirts meant you got some extra Zs in the morning, too, because you didn’t need an extra half hour to stand in front of your closet wondering what you should wear.

4.) Fetching snacks for your campers was so much more fun than fetching coffee for a boss–and your campers were more appreciative, too.

5.) You got paid to do lots of fun outdoor activities everyday.  Your friends had to request a day off to do fun outdoor activities.

6.) Your “office” had a much better view than your friends’ cubicles. Summer camp provided plenty of breathing room in the form of roomy campuses as workplaces.

7.) Every day brought new opportunities and challenges that, by the sounds of it, were much more gratifying than spending an entire summer filing and creating mail merges.

8.) Letting loose and acting silly was not only acceptable, it was encouraged.  Your friends got verbal warnings for laughing too loudly in their offices.

9.) The amount of friends and connections you have through social media outlets multiplied exponentially.  Who knew summer camp would be such a great place to network?

10.) You got lots of firsthand experience pursuing your passion in the always exciting setting of Camp Laurel with lots of people from all over the world who were just as enthusiastic about there as you!

5 Tips for First Time Counselors

You’ve accepted the position and completed the paperwork. It’s official! You’re about to spend your first summer as a camp counselor. Naturally, a lot of people experience a few nerves in the days leading up to camp. After all, even when you’re a grown adult, leaving behind your family and friends to spend the summer in a strange place is a big deal, especially if you’ve never been away from home for an extended period of time before. If you didn’t attend summer camp as a child, working at summer camp holds even more mystique because you’re not sure what to expect. If first time counselor nerves are haunting you, don’t be so quick to call up and accept that unpaid internship filing paperwork in a stuffy office all summer and, for goodness sake, don’t accept that job at the hot dog stand in the local park. Instead, follow these tips to kick your summer into gear now:

1.) Relax! You are NOT the only first time staff member coming to camp. If you know no oneelse going to camp or have never been to camp, that understandably may be a pretty difficult concept to wrap your head around right now. But trust us! When you get to camp, you will be in good company. If you’re feeling a little bit lonely when you first arrive, don’t panic and automatically assume you’ve made a mistake. The majority of people who tend to be drawn to work at camp typically have laid back, easy going and open personalities with an extraverted bend toward making new friends. Chances are that after your camp’s staff orientation period, you’ll have several new friends for life and wonder why you ever even doubted coming to camp.

2.) Like your camp’s Facebook page and staff Facebook page if it has one. Social media has arrived and most summer camps are completely aware that the easiest and most effective way to communicate with their camp staff is through means such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. By liking your camp’s pages, you can make friends before camp, pick up a lot of useful tips, and even possibly connect with a rideshare if you’re looking for a way to get to camp. Most summer camps also now feature regular blogs. It’s a good idea to pop onto the camp webpage every now and then in the weeks leading up to camp to see what new blogs have been posted. Camps tend to post some blogs, such as this one, for which staff is the intended audience during the late spring and early summer.

3.) Don’t over or under pack. Packing lists are created by camp professionals who’ve spent enough summers at camp to know what you need to be comfortable for the summer. So read over the staff packing list, if your camp supplies one, when determining what to pack as well as what not to pack. Veteran staff members are also usually more than happy to field questions on staff Facebook pages, which makes them a good resource if you’re unsure about some items.

4.) Arrive with the right mindset; being a camp counselor really is the hardest job you’ll ever love. Camps tell prospective staff members this during the interview process…and they mean it. You are about to spend the summer working harder than you’ve ever worked in your life, and you will love most moments of it. There will also be moments during which you will question how in the world you ended up working at a summer camp and why you thought it was a good idea. Two things are essential to moving forward when these moments happen, and they’re actually most effective if you prepare yourself with them before you even get to camp. First, arrive with the right attitude. Yes, you’re there to work. You’re there to work hard. You’re also going to have a lot of fun creating amazing moments for and with your campers. Second, know what helps you alleviate stress or frustration and come prepared to engage in it should the need arise.

5.) Be in the moment. Yes, we spend our lives being told how important it is to plan. But at camp, it’s very important to be in the moment and be present with the campers. It’s how you’ll best appreciate the camp counselor experience as well. Summer camp lasts only a few weeks each summer, and things tend to move very quickly. On the first day, you’ll be looking ahead at a whole summer and thinking the end seems like a long way off. But on the last day of camp you will wonder where it went. Don’t find yourself with regrets on that day by realizing that you didn’t take advantage of every moment.

Who is Watching Your Children? A Look at Camp Staff and Leadership

If you submit prospective babysitters through background and reference checks just for a date night with your spouse or significant other, then you probably have an extreme interest in just who will be taking care of your children at summer camp.  Thanks in part to movies and television, many parents have images of young, barely out of high school teenagers filling counselor roles.  However, the truth is that camps conduct searches for months to locate and fill leadership and key staff roles with mature, knowledgeable professionals, many of whom work with children in some capacity year round.

Even though camp is still six months away, chances are that your child’s summer camp (or prospective summer camp) has already kicked its recruiting season into high gear.  To find counselors, many camps traverse college campuses across the country searching for college students and recent grads who are pursuing careers in education, social work, youth athletics, or other fields related to working with children.  In order to avoid staff members that are too immature—or mature—the target demographic for counselors is typically between 20-25, although some camps will vary from this in certain scenarios or for special needs.  A successful camp counselor works 24/7 and must be mature enough to make split second decisions that concern the welfare and well -being of children.  Although counselor staffs tend to have relatively high turnover rates from year to year because college students complete college and move on to full time jobs that they cannot leave for an entire summer, leadership staff tends to return more regularly.

Camp leadership is often comprised of seasoned teachers and coaches who have been involved with summer camp in some capacity for several years or even decades.  Some of them grew up as campers and worked their way into leadership positions beginning as counselor assistants or counselors.  Others began as counselors and loved the experience so much that they have returned from year to year.  Still others are hired directly into their leadership roles after extensive searches by camps to find the best candidate for the role.  However their camp experience began, one thing that all camp leaders have in common is that they not only have extensive experience working with children, but thorough knowledge of the intricacies and behind the scenes goings on of summer camp.

Aside from leadership staff, other mature individuals are employed to staff health and dining facilities as well as offices.  In fact, parents are sometimes surprised to learn that so many mature, experienced professionals spend their summers at sleepaway camp.  But, for many, the experience, as it is for the children, is beyond compare.  Those who return each year will tell you that they wouldn’t consider spending their summers anyplace else.  They love what they do, they love their campers, and they love their camps!  How many traditional jobs can boast such high morale and collective years of experience?

Make Your Camp Counselor Experience an Effective Tool in Your Job Search

So you’ve spent a summer—or maybe the better part of your college career—working as a summer camp counselor.  You’re nearing graduation and you’re starting to pull together your resume for finding a job in the “real world”.  You’ve been wondering, ‘How do I adequately articulate my summer camp experience?’  You’re worried that it will sound trivial to hiring managers, but you know that what you gained from your camp experiences are some of the most valuable skills you’ve learned.  You’ve learned the art of communication, having worked with people all over the world and children ranging in age from seven to fifteen.  You’ve learned the importance of discretion; your campers didn’t need to know EVERYTHING about you.  You’ve learned how to negotiate, mediate, and maintain a positive morale, having coached your campers through swim tests, disagreements, activities, stage fright, and just about a million other things.  You’ve learned time management skills.  How many other job applicants can motivate twelve campers to move across campus from soccer to woodworking in five minutes or less, consistently coax them out of bed at 7am, and convince them that it’s time for lights out after an exciting evening of activities? You’ve learned how to use creativity to solve problems and are MacGyver with a few jars of paint, construction paper, a little bit of fabric, some scissors, and maybe a little glitter…add feathers and beads to that mix and you can practically re-invent the wheel.  In fact, you’ve learned so many things as a summer camp counselor that you’re not even sure how you’re going to fit it all onto one 8 ½” X 11” sheet of paper, nevermind about your other job experience. So how do you convey the importance your summer camp job experience has had on your life in a way that hiring managers will see the value in it, too?

First, as sentimental as those experiences were for you, a hiring manager isn’t looking for the screenplay to the next The Blind Side.  They’re looking for prospective employees who can efficiently yet effectively and specifically communicate their skills and abilities in a very concise manner.  This means keep it relevant and as action packed as most of those days at summer camp were.  Convey how active your summer camp job was through the verbs that you choose.

Second, without being too broad, make your resume sing of how well rounded your skill set is because of your summer camp counselor experience.  Employers love diversity.  A resume that sings of it will be sure to get a hiring manager’s attention.

Third, do your homework.  Job hunting is not a one size fits all endeavor.  You need to know and understand not only what you are looking for, but what the company to which you are applying is looking for as well.  If there is a particular quality you feel you possess because of your summer camp counselor experience that makes you a good fit for a position or a company, highlight that one quality in your cover letter.  Explain specifically how you feel your summer job experience and knowledge will translate into the new role.    Having experience is one thing.  Demonstrating that you understand how that experience can be integrated into others speaks volumes.

Fourth, don’t be afraid to remind prospective employers, either in your cover letter or at the interview, that being a camp counselor is a 24/7 job.  Employers are attracted to people who aren’t afraid to throw themselves heart and soul into their work.  What’s more heart and soul than being on duty 24/7?

Finally, be prepared.  Be prepared to tell a hiring manager at an interview EXACTLY why you feel your summer camp experience gives you the edge over other applicants.  When asked, don’t go into a lengthy mumble that basically amounts to a rehash of your summer(s).  Show the hiring manager that you’ve thought long and hard about how your summer camp work experience is relevant to your future and that you understand specifically how to extract your experiences and apply them to other areas of your life.  Most importantly, give examples, give examples, give examples!

Lots of Fun During Staff Orientation!

Staff Orientation is in full swing! All our staff is at camp learning the ins-and-outs of being a camp counselor and having a blast. It’s certainly a talented crew! We’ve had a jam-packed week so far with Leadership Training Sessions, Health and Safety Seminars, Typical Day At Camp, Role Playing, Staff Chaos, Campus Competes, Field Night, CL Drafts, Swim Tests, Driving Tests and so much more. We even brought in Maine’s premier Square Dance Caller, Al Hipkins, for a little Hoe-Down last night. Yeehaw! We still have a lot to do before camper arrival day on Saturday but we can’t wait. Only 5 days till camp!!!

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